Staatsbosbeheer and the Dutch big five

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As a public ranger in the Netherlands, the 27 year old Kayleigh Ranzijn works in nature all the time. Even though the Netherlands might not be known for its abundant wildlife and … lush scenery, there are numerous species to discover. In this article we ask her about her work experiences and the Dutch ‘Big 5’.


Why did you start working at ‘staatsbosbeheer’ and what do you like so much about it? Can you explain what staatsbosbeheer does

Let’s start with what we do at Staatsbosbeheer. We maintain and protect 273.000 hectares of nature in the Netherlands. This flora and fauna is used for educational purposes as well as recreational purposes. The reason why we do this is to protect the nature that we have left. We need to make people aware of how unique, beautiful and necessary our surroundings are.

My own reason to work with Staatsbosbeheer as a public ranger is my love for nature. I want to create an awareness and feeling of responsibility within the people I work with. I like to bring across my enthusiasm, so that they feel more connected to nature as well. In the end, I hope this connection makes them advocates for nature.


Which animals belong to the Dutch Big 5?

The Dutch Big 5 consists of a roe deer, a red deer, the wild boar, the seal and the beaver.


What is it that makes these animals so special?

Staatsbosbeheer, the organization that I work for – set out a quest for the top 5 relatively big and most impressive animals of the Netherlands. That was in 2011, when we named them after the well-known African ‘Big 5’. As we set it out as a quest, we got the best and most representative Big 5 that we could have, chosen by Dutch citizens.


What can we do to see the big 5 and how should we behave?

Well, first of all it is important to not get too close to the animals. We want to watch them from a safe distance, so that they feel home in the place we call their habitat. We don’t want to disturb any animals in the wild, nor do we want to destroy the area in which they roam free. Talking about that, you can even protect their habitats by learning about them. Book an excursion, ask a ranger for advice, inform a specialist or take a deep dive in the information through books or the internet.


We have seen wolves coming back to the Netherlands in the past years. What are the expectations for the future Do you think there will be more animals coming back to your country?

Dutch nature is becoming more robust by the day which is a good sign. However, our nature might need a hand sometime to thrive. The animals that come back to our nature – like wolves – encounter many roadblocks during their travels here. As you might know, the wolf has become more and more common in the Netherlands. Even though we acknowledge this, we haven’t added it to our list of the Big 5 yet. We don’t encourage people to start looking for this predator in the wild.

Another example of returning animals is the otter. To bring back otters to our natural systems, we have chosen to transport them from other European countries back here, so that they don’t encounter these roadblocks and difficult passages. It takes a decent amount of research and talking with many stakeholders to decide such things, but eventually we aim for a robust, natural and beautiful nature scenery.


Can these animals live in a country with so many buildings and infrastructure?

Yes, they can. Often we enclose areas especially for these animals, so that roadkill et cetera are less of a threat. But as you can imagine, sometimes they spread in a natural way which brings them to the edges of their habitat. So it is possible for them to live here, but we do like to keep it in check so that humans and wildlife both have their safe spaces.


Where would you advise us to go to watch the big 5?

To spot red deer, I would say the Veluwe and the Oostvaardersplassen (in Flevoland) are your best shot. In comparison to the red deer, roe deer are quite small, so you have to keep a close watch to see one. Though, if you know how to spot them, there are plenty of areas and forests where you will see them.

Spotting the wild boar is a little harder, because their populations are kept small in the Netherlands due to their potentiality to destroy things. Therefore, we have special areas designated for them, like National Park the Meinweg in the province Limburg and the better known National Park the Veluwe.

The beaver can’t be seen very easily. This water loving creature does leave traces that are more easy to find. You can see beaver lodges in the water, for example. The best place to spot either these traces or the beaver himself, is National Park The Biesbosch. They even organize true beaver safaris here.

Last but not least, the seal. In the Netherlands there are two species: the harbour seal and the grey seal. Seal center Pieterburen is a great location to learn more about these species and it is a great location to start your search for seals. Ecomare on the island Texel is also a great location to spot them. Thirdly, the Grevelingen Lake, which lies between the provinces Zuid-Holland and Zeeland, offers a wonderful area to spot seals.

Staatsbosbeheer organizes excursions and safaris to introduce people to the Big Five of the Netherlands. If you are interested or if you plan on visiting the Netherlands soon, take a look at the website.


If we go out, looking for the big 5, what should we keep in mind?

You can start with the natural areas and national parks mentioned above. Keep a distance, stay on the designated pathways or waterways, don’t go into natural parks after sunset and don’t forget your binoculars. One of the best shots for multiple animals from the Big 5 is the Veluwe. During dawn you might see roe deer, red deer and wild boars.


Our aim is to inspire our readers to be conscious about nature and to respect our surroundings. What is your perspective on how we should behave with wild animals?

Stay calm, that is the first and foremost thing to do. Stay at the right distance, so that they can do their thing freely. You don’t have to play hide and seek with them, but it definitely helps to use a wildlife screen, behind which you sit and watch.


What is your number 1 sustainable travel tip?

In Europe we have the Interrail pass, which takes you everywhere by train. For just 200 euros you can spend a month in Europe, while leaving only a small footprint (compared to other ways of traveling). You can also use this in the Netherlands to visit multiple National Parks and beautiful areas.

Besides that, I follow some people on Instagram who inspire me to live sustainably. Examples are @aniekmoonen and @irisgoesgreen, but for your audience it might be difficult as these people speak Dutch. I’m sure there are many more inspirational and international accounts that you can follow as well.

If there are any Dutch followers though, I highly advise the traineeship from IVN Nature education. Together with this community of like minded people, you take a different perspective on nature conservation and other quests within sustainability.


I can imagine people want to stay in nature, as close as possible to wildlife. Do you have any recommendations for people to stay in nature in the Netherlands?

Staatsbosbeheer and other nature organizations like Natuurmonumenten have nature camping sites, where visitors can experience nature from close-up. You can click on this link for more information.


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